Humor Media Politics

Fidel Castro Caption Contest

On its Tublr pageThe Atlantic reposted a photo of Cuban leader Fidel Castro with columnist Jeffrey Goldberg. They turned the photo into a caption contest. I love caption contests so I couldn’t resist coming up with the following captions (under the photo):

Let me just proofread my note Jeffrey before I give it to you to put in the Western Wall on your next trip to Israel.
Wow, Jeffrey! You were so much thinner at your bar mitzvah!
The Atlantic columnist Jeffrey Goldberg hand delivers a thank-you note from Chelsea Clinton after the Cuban dictator sent “his and her’s” bath towels as wedding gift.
(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
International Relations Israel Media Politics

Fidel Tells Ahmadinejad to Stop Slandering the Jews

A few years ago, it looked like Fidel Castro was going to make his grand exit from the land of the living. Instead, early this summer he emerged from his medically induced hiatus. Since his return, Castro has apparently been reading The Atlantic because he contacted Jeffrey Goldberg, a reporter at the magazine recently.

While Goldberg was on vacation a couple weeks ago, the head of the Cuban Interest Section in Washington (what would be the Cuban embassy if we had diplomatic relations with Cuba) called Goldberg’s cellphone with a message from Fidel Castro. He invited him to Havana to discuss Goldberg’s article on Iran and Israel.

Fidel told Goldberg that his article in The Atlantic confirmed “his view that Israel and America were moving precipitously and gratuitously toward confrontation with Iran.” Fidel “criticized Ahmadinejad for denying the Holocaust and explained why the Iranian government would better serve the cause of peace by acknowledging the ‘unique’ history of anti-Semitism and trying to understand why Israelis fear for their existence.”

Goldberg’s reflections on his face-to-face meeting with Castro is fascinating. Perhaps, if he’s feeling up to it, Castro should be brokering peace between the Palestinians and Israelis.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Antisemitism Israel Media Middle East Politics

Time Not on Israel’s Side

As I prepare for the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, like most rabbis I feel like time is not on my side. For Israel, however, as the Jewish nation engages in the latest round of a potential peace treaty with the Palestinians, Time is certainly not on her side — Time Magazine that is.

This week’s issue of Time Magazine has the bold headline proclaiming “Why Israel Doesn’t Care About Peace.” I’ve only read the online version of the article thus far (the online version is an abridged version of the cover story appearing in the September 13, 2010 issue). Overall, it seems that the article itself is fair to some extent, but let’s face it — most Americans are only going to see the cover. They’ll see the cover telling them that Israel doesn’t care about peace when they’re at the grocery store, pharmacy, library, bookstore, and airport. Most people won’t pick up the magazine to even read the thesis of the article.

Rabbi Daniel Gordis attacked Time Magazine’s choice of cover art in his Commentary Magazine editorial. Gordis writes that “The Web version of the story hardly even qualifies as journalism. It’s nothing more than a few sentences strung together, interspersed with links to a series of photographs. The printed version, at least, has a thesis, and it’s not a bad one. Its claim is that Israelis don’t discuss the peace process much (true), that they have low expectations (true), and that they don’t care (also true). And why do Israelis not care?”

The problem with the article as Gordis explains is that Time Magazine’s answer for why Israelis have despaired of peace is because they are more interested in money. Now, if that’s not a classic anti-semitic argument, I don’t know what is.

Unfortunately, those who read the article in Time will simply figure that Israelis don’t care about peace because they’re more concerned with their hi-tech companies, 401K’s, and real estate investments. They won’t know that the current peace negotiations were the Israeli prime minister’s idea and that the president of the Palestinian Authority had to be dragged to the bargaining table. They won’t read the thoughtful responses to the Time Magazine cover story by Danny Gordis or Bret Stevens in the Wall Street Journal. They won’t remember Israel’s successful peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. Instead, they’ll see photos throughout the cover story of Israelis on a Tel Aviv beach smoking a hookah and silly quotes from real estate agents about how Israelis continue to buy homes despite the missiles falling.

I guess if Time’s going to resort to age old anti-Semitism against Israel, then the only way to “beat back Time” is to go satirical. I’ll leave that job to “The Onion,” which gets the best jab against Time Magazine with its fake news story about Time creating a new magazine for adult readers. Here’s the video:

TIME Announces New Version Of Magazine Aimed At Adults

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Detroit Internet Jewish Newspapers Judaism and Technology Media Web

The Internet’s Effect on Jewish Newspapers

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) likes to think of itself as the Jewish AP. The JTA is a non-profit news service that disseminates the happenings in the Jewish world as soon as they happen. Ideally, they try to scoop all the other news agencies and print media.

The long-time publisher of the JTA, Mark Joffe, stepped down suddenly on July 25 and Ami Eden, who was serving as editor, took the reins. The Jerusalem Post reports that there was more to the JTA’s press release than was reported. “Over the past two decades, US Jewish media and print journalism in general have been in steady decline due to dwindling readership and loss of ad revenue to the Web. When the recession hit two years ago it dealt a devastating blow to an already weakened industry.”

The Jerusalem Post interviewed new JTA publisher Ami Eden, who said that ideas for collaboration among the Jewish print media were percolating and would materialize between 12 and 18 months. “I think it’s clear that most American Jewish newspapers haven’t figured out how to make money online. Why should we not try to create a unified Web presence having one big Web site with a team thats constantly keeping it fresh? We clearly could be pulling our technological resources and sharing the Web traffic. If we’re all investing in the same Web traffic, it becomes a great idea,” Eden argued and then, according to the Jerusalem Post, declined to go into further detail.

Bob Goldfarb, president of the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity, writes on the eJewish Philanthropy blog, “The ‘one big Website’ that Eden envisions could similarly be a shared platform operated by a member-owned JTA that preserves the identities of participating local papers while enabling central coordination of content. JTA editors could select stories from member papers that are of national interest and include those in a National News feed on the platform. That would free local editors to focus on local news and lower JTA’s domestic news-gathering costs at the same time. Centralizing site maintenance and advertising sales, while enabling local ad sales and local content control, would reduce costs locally. It also would vastly simplify JTA’s national marketing to readers as well as to advertisers. And owning a stake in the shared platform can be a powerful incentive for newspapers to participate in it.”

As both an avid reader of Jewish newspapers and an uber-connected Web user, I’ve been thinking about many of these issues myself.

I’m a Detroit native and have been reading the since… well, probably since not long after I learned read. For decades it was how I fell asleep on Friday nights. Following Shabbat dinner at my parents’ home, my mother would read the DJN, and then I would take it to bed and fall asleep reading it cover-to-cover beginning with the back pages first (obituaries) as is the local tradition. The prevailing joke was that if you didn’t find your own name in the back pages, you could continue reading the rest of the paper!

The paper contained the local, national and world (mostly Israel) news. It was how we found out about what was going on in the “Jewish world” around us. A few years ago, the paper switched to a Thursday delivery which actually upset many people. Even though we could get the DJN a day earlier, it seemed to upset the rhythm of the week – and the tradition. Now the DJN (laid out like the actual paper in its entirety) is available free to subscribers early Wednesday mornings on the Web. Even though I’m reading it almost a full three days earlier, the news is already stale. By the time the JTA feeds get to the DJN to place in their paper I’ve already gotten that news by e-mail (JTA News Alerts) or read it on the Web at or the Forward or NY Jewish Week or even the NY Times. Not to mention the immediate Google Alerts I receive with keywords like “Jewish” and “Israel.”

When I come across these news stories in the DJN’s print paper there have already been updates, changes and resolutions. The local coverage in the Jewish papers is much the same. Because of e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, and text messaging, the flow of information is so quick that the news is old by the time it gets in the paper. Funeral homes send out daily e-mails with death notices, and synagogues, schools, and organizations send out e-mail alerts as soon as a death is reported. By the time the deaths are listed in the paper everyone already knows about it and the funeral has already occurred. Life-cycle events like births, bar/bat mitzvahs, weddings, and anniversaries are announced for free on Facebook which makes the announcements in the paper less exciting to read.

But all of this shouldn’t be spoken about in negative terms. Maybe it is the demise of print media, especially for regional Jewish newspapers, but this should just force everyone involved to think outside-the-box.

I think Ami Eden is on to something. The freshness he brings to JTA should be contagious around the country (and I hope it is). One of the first things Ami does should be convening a meeting (virtual or face-to-face) of all Jewish newspaper editors and publishers to collaborate on his idea of “one big website.” The advertising dollars will be there, I’m sure. This is just another example of how the Internet has removed the borders in the Jewish community. I know I’m not the only Jew who’s already gotten his news by reading the JTA feed and visiting the websites of the Forward, The NY Jewish Week, Haaretz, and The Jerusalem Post before my local Jewish newspaper even hits my mailbox.

I have great respect for everyone in the Jewish newspaper business, but let’s focus on the future… because it’s here.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
History Israel Media News Photography Technology

Fauxtographing the News: From Herzl to the Flotilla

Cross-posted at Jewish Techs

Photoshop might not have been around a century ago, but the altering of images to change history has been around for a very long time.

A couple weeks ago I ventured into the basement floor of the Steimatzky’s flagship bookstore in the Mamilla Mall in Jerusalem. The three-story store is located in the building that once belonged to the Stern family, who hosted Theodor Herzl on his one and only visit to Jerusalem and the basement is now a mini museum devoted to the founder of modern Zionism.

Looking at several photographs of Herzl with famous leaders in Jerusalem, my attention was directed to what looked like a Photoshopped photo from over 100 years ago. In the next display case, hung a series of photos that remind us that we can’t always trust photographs.

Here’s the story: On the morning of October 28, 1898 outside of the agricultural school at Mikve Israel, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, astride a white stallion and wearing a gold helmet, stopped for a moment on his way to Jerusalem. By the roadside stood Theodor Herzl, who considered the Kaiser’s recognition crucial for international approval of his plan to resettle the Jews in the land of Israel.

The original photograph of Herzl and the Kaiser was not acceptable as only Herzl’s left foot could be seen in the photo. Herzl, aware of the importance of the photo, ordered its reconstruction. A photo of Herzl was taken on the roof of the school and superimposed onto the photo after seating Kaiser Wilhelm II on the dark horse (instead of the original white stallion).

There are many examples of such photo manipulation. Time magazine’s website lists its choices for the Top Ten Doctored Photos and warns that “photographers have been manipulating imagery since the medium was invented”.

Doctored photos have been in the news lately following the Reuters scandal concerning its manipulation of photos from aboard the Mavi Marmara, one of the ships in the flotilla that tried to break the Israeli/Egyptian Gaza blockade last week.

Reuters is claiming that doctored photos that it published, which fail to show individuals aboard the Mavi Marmara holding weapons are the result of an “editing error.” According to the Israel Matzav blog, the agency has said the absence of the activists holding knives in the pictures it originally published to its wire was an editing error.

In a statement given to they said, “Reuters is committed to accurate and impartial reporting. All images that pass over our wire follow a strict editorial evaluation and selection process. The images in question were made available in Istanbul, and following normal editorial practice were prepared for dissemination which included cropping at the edges.”

The uncropped images have now been reinstated as part of the agency’s package of images from the aid ship attack.

The moral of the story is that while a photo may tell a thousand words, you might want to take those words with a grain of salt.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Antisemitism Hate Israel Media News Politics World Events

Rabbi Nesenoff’s 25,000 Pieces of Hate Mail

Cross-posted at Jewish Techs

Before this past weekend, Rabbi David Nesenoff was a virtually unknown rabbi who lives and works on Long Island. When his teenage son finished his high school exams and uploaded a 2-minute video of Helen Thomas expressing her anti-Israel views on the Whitehouse lawn, Nesenoff gained global fame. That 2-minute video on his website brought Helen Thomas’ long career in journalism to an abrupt and embarrassing end.

In addition to the media inquiries, Rabbi Nesenoff has also received some 25,000 messages of hate in the past few days since uploading the Helen Thomas video for worldwide consumption. Tonight, he updated the website to read: reported a story from the White House lawn.

We received over twenty five thousand pieces of hate mail. Emails will be continuously posted TONIGHT.

“Because of indifference, one dies before one actually dies.” 
-Elie Wiesel

Nesenoff and his son, the site’s webmaster, will post some of the nastiest, hate-filled email messages they received without concealing the sender’s name or email address.

The first posting to the site includes the text “Helen Thomas was right” followed by profanity and an apparent threat to the rabbi and his family. The sender also attached a photograph of death row inmate and convicted mass murdering cult leader Charles Manson with a swastika tattoo between his eyes.

This is undoubtedly not what Rabbi Nesenoff expected when he posted the now famous Helen Thomas video.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Celebrities Jewish Media News Politics Rabbi

Complete Helen Thomas Interview

Here is the complete video of Rabbi David Nesenoff ( asking Helen Thomas her views on Israel. Watching it, one gets the idea that Helen Thomas has always held these opinions, but can no longer keep them to herself now that the almost 90-year-old has lost her filter and says whatever she’s thinking. Listen carefully and you can hear the woman sitting next to her remark, “Helen is blunt.”

Perhaps that’s the understatement of the year!

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Celebrities Israel Jewish Media News Politics

The Rabbi Who Took Down Helen Thomas

In May 1996 I sat in the Breslin Center arena in East Lansing as I watched my then girlfriend (now wife) graduate from Michigan State University. A year prior I watched President Bill Clinton speak to the crowd at Spartan Stadium for MSU commencement. The speaker at this graduation was none other than Helen Thomas, former UPI and Hearst Newspaper columnist of Lebanese descent.

Fast forward more than a decade. A couple years ago I watched an interesting documentary on HBO about Helen Thomas titled “Thank You Mr. President.” It detailed Helen Thomas’ long career in the front row in the White House Press Corp where she always got to ask the first question.

This past Saturday night, my wife asked me if I had heard what Helen Thomas said about Israel. I tuned into YouTube to find an impromptu interview conducted by none other than my colleague, Rabbi David Nesenoff, a Conservative rabbi on Long Island (Temple Tikvah Synagogue of Hope in East Northport). At the White House for last week’s Jewish Awareness Month dinner, Nesenoff asked the 89-year-old Thomas what she thought of Israel and she responded that the Jews should leave Israel and return to Germany and Poland.

Nesenoff (pictured) runs a website called in which he posts various video footage of him interviewing people (sometimes undercover with a hidden camera). I’m sure when Nesenoff pointed the camera at Helen Thomas he wasn’t expecting that her recorded words would eventually bring about her downfall, but that’s precisely what happened.

Helen Thomas retired today and issued the following statement: “I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon.”

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said today that Thomas’s comments about Israel were “offensive and reprehensible.” During his press briefing this morning, which Thomas did not attend, Gibbs said that though he hasn’t spoken with Obama about the her comments, they “do not reflect” the view of his administration. He added, “she should, and has apologized.”

Some might argue that it’s not the place of a rabbi to conduct interviews like the one Nesenoff conducted of Helen Thomas. However, Nesenoff’s video showed the world what Helen Thomas really thinks of Israel. It should be a wake-up call that someone with those views has not only been covering the news for so many decades, but has had such a high level of access to our nation’s leaders.

Even before Helen Thomas resigned, she had been dropped by her speaker’s agency, Nine Speakers, Inc for her comments posted on Also, Craig Crawford refused to work with Helen Thomas on any future book projects and she was dropped from a High School graduation key note speaker position.

Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer and Lanny Davis, former White House counsel, both called for Hearst Corporation to fire Helen immediately.

Thanks to Rabbi David Nesenoff, Helen Thomas now ends her storied career on a very sour note. And deservedly so.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Jewish Media Politics Social Justice Television Torah Tzedakah

Glenn Beck Vs. Social Justice

Reform Judaism might have been the first Jewish movement to embrace social justice in the 20th century, but the first decade of our current century has seen a vast increase in the importance of Tikkun Olam in the global Jewish community.  There are few Jewish congregations in North America that have yet to embrace a coordinated social action initiative.

While there may be some rabbis who would prioritize the adherence to Jewish law, prayer, ritual, study, and worship above social justice work, there are not many rabbis who have the chutzpah to actually criticize synagogues or individuals for participating in such noble endeavors.

But that’s where Glenn Beck comes in. Back in March, the Fox News personality told his audience to leave churches and synagogues that pursue social justice as a value. I am not a regular viewer of Beck’s show, so when I heard this sound bite I thought I misheard him. But, no, he really said it.

Many church groups and Christian leaders fought back, but there was not a strong rebuttal from Jewish groups. Simon Greer, the President & CEO of Jewish Funds for Justice, wrote in the “On Faith” column on Newsweek’s website that Glenn Beck is “a con man and America is not buying it. I exhort you to stop bottling your ideological agenda and labeling it ‘theology.’ Americans deserve and demand better.”

Greer went on to tell Beck, “You’ve told us what not to look for in a house of worship. But now I ask you, sincerely, what kind of house of worship do you desire? On March 23, you said, ‘Make sure your church puts God first and politics and government last.’ The question then is, how do we put God first?”

In response to Greer’s column Beck retorted: “This is exactly the kind of talk that led to the death camps in Germany” and that Greer, “a Jew, of all people, should know that.”

Here’s my simple take on this: Social Justice is an essential component of any Jewish theology. As Jews, we should use our hearts to pursue prayer, our heads to pursue the study of Torah and to seek to understand God’s Law, and our hands to assist God in the repair of this broken world in which we share responsibility. The same holds true for all people of faith. Caring about our fellow human and seeking to help them is at the core of being part of a just society.

Glenn Beck? He’s just a crazy man saying ridiculous things to anyone who will tune in and listen. Part of our job in pursuing peace and justice is to publicize just how incredibly wrong and hurtful Glenn Beck’s words are to humanity.

We should be grateful not only for the sacred work that Jewish Funds for Justice is doing, but also for the mitzvah of tochecha (reproachment) that its leader Simon Greer has demonstrated.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |